Started as a solo project of John Darnielle in 1993, The Mountain Goats have evolved, grown and currently are the trio of Darnielle, Jon Wurster and Peter Hughes. On Transcendental Youth, their 14th album, The Mountain Goats have produced a work that shows their development both musically and lyrically.
For this album they asked Matthew E. White to arrange horns for most of the songs. While the songs still fit with The Mountain Goats, guitar and piano based rock sound, it gives them a more dynamic element. Darnielle’s falsetto voice at times talk-singing give each song a distinct sound. Despite the seriousness of the lyrics, the melodies are catchy and bombastic.
In addition to the maturing sound, Darnielle’s storied past and experiences make for an eclectic mix of song lyrics. Darnielle grew up in a devotedly Catholic family with an abusive stepfather. After high school he worked as a nurse at a psychiatric hospital. These facts make their way into Darnielle’s writing. On the 2009 album The Life of the World to Come, Darnielle named each song after different scripture references. In the opening track, “Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1” off Transcendental Youth, Darnielle sings,
Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive
Do every stupid thing to drive to drive the dark away
Let people call you crazy for the choices that you make
Find limits past the limits
Jump in front of trains all day
And stay alive
Just stay alive
For Darnielle hope is hard to get to with all the brokenness and pain that is ever present in our lives. Our emotions deceive us and it is hard for us to make the choices that would bring us joy. But rather than remain in despair, he encourages us to survive, to find a way to thrive despite the odds. With uplifting melodies, these songs are a great contribution to this goal: introspective, but not overwhelming.
- Greg Veltman